On March 1, City Attorney Peter Flintoft provided the Chelsea City Council with a review of District Court Judge Anna Frushour’s Feb. 22 decision that dismissed the citations issued against about 14 Chelsea residents for impeding traffic during a protest in July.
Flintoft explained the judge found that the state statute, which the Legislature amended in 2017, was unconstitutional under a “strict scrutiny” test. This is defined as a form of judicial review that courts use to determine the constitutionality of certain laws in some First Amendment situations.
The judge deemed that the amended state traffic law was a “content-based regulation,” one that allows people to impede traffic for a specific charitable reason, but it prohibits others from doing so for political or other reasons.
Flintoft said the city argued that the tickets were issued for conduct of the people in the roadway and had nothing to do with freedom of speech. And, without a ruling on people impeding normal flow of traffic on the roadway, it could happen again and again, and there would be no civil infraction penalty available for city police.
Flintoft recommended that the city appeal the decision, and if that’s what the City Council decides to authorize him to do, there is a 21-day time deadline. As of March 1, Flintoft said he has not received the transcript of the proceeding or of the judge’s ruling and no written ruling would be issued.
As it stands currently, if any group decides to arrive in Chelsea to protest in the streets and obstructs traffic without a permit, the city currently has no civil enforcement options. The only enforcement would be a misdemeanor citation, which carries a greater penalty.
There are three options for the city: to do nothing, ask the Legislature to amend the statute or appeal the judge’s decision.
If you would like to listen to the Chelsea City Council meeting and hear all of the discussion, please go the the city website and click on meeting videos.